How's your sleep?
Did you know that poor sleep can increase stress hormones? Not sleeping well can also mess up your blood glucose regulation and interfere with those hormones that regulate your appetite and hunger levels. That means that we can actually gain weight as a result of not sleeping well. How unfair is that?
Most of us know the practical steps we can take to help with our sleep, such as avoiding blue light from screens before bed and that exercise is helpful as long as it’s not close to bedtime.
We also know that avoiding caffeine close to bedtime is a good idea, but what about other tweaks and additions to our diet might help us sleep better?
Let’s take them one by one:
1) Eating before bed:
It’s obvious I know but just paying attention to what you eat a couple of hours before bed can help. Foods high in fat and foods high in sugar eaten in the evening can impact your sleep. High-fat foods slow down the digestion process, and foods high in sugar can affect our blood glucose levels which then raise our stress hormone levels which then, of course, has a negative knock-on effect on our sleep. Alcohol, although we often think it will help, is also a no-no for a good nights sleep. That’s because it increases levels of dopamine in the brain, which has a stimulating effect and interferes with melatonin production, which is critical in helping us get a good nights sleep.
2) Eating regularly
Eating well balanced nourishing meals at regular intervals means that your blood glucose levels stay steady. That means skipping meals and going long periods between eating can have a negative impact on your sleep.
3) Eat Green
Did you know that spinach, kale, and other dark green vegetables can help us sleep better? It’s because they have minerals such as magnesium which boosts better sleep.
4) Foods to eat to help with sleep
Some foods are rich in tryptophan (an amino acid that is used by our bodies to make serotonin and melatonin). Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that’s very important for many processes in our bodies, including mood regulation and promoting good sleep by regulating our circadian rhythms. We make the hormone melatonin in our pineal gland. Melatonin gets created from serotonin and is essential for our natural cycles of waking and sleep.
We can eat foods that contain melatonin. Nuts such as almonds, walnuts and peanuts and seeds such as sunflower seeds and flaxseeds have the highest levels. Vegetables such as sweetcorn, asparagus and olives and fruits such as strawberries, tomatoes, and grapes contain melatonin and so do grains such as oats.
Foods that are high in protein contain tryptophan such as chicken, eggs, cheese, fish, peanuts, nuts and seeds, tofu and soy and dairy foods. It’s also present in dark chocolate (hurray!)
Fruits such as apples, bananas, kiwi, grapes, avocados also contain vitamins and antioxidants that help promote sleep.
Oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines also have the potential to improve sleep. That’s because they contain vitamin D and omega-3 fats which increase the production of serotonin in the brain.
5) Boost your vitamins and minerals
When sleep is the issue, it’s all about the B vitamins. Vitamin B6 is vital in the production of melatonin. We can make sure we get enough in our diet by eating bananas, chickpeas, avocados, fish and chicken and colourful veggies. If we eat things like beetroot, peanuts and white meat, we can also boost our levels of niacin (another B vitamin) which improves our REM cycle and reduces the number of times we wake at night.
Magnesium is the king of minerals when it comes to sleep. It has a relaxing effect on the body and calms the mind. As I’ve mentioned above, green leafy vegetables contain magnesium. Other good sources include soybeans, nuts (almonds, brazil nuts, pecans), seeds (sunflower, flaxseed) and also avocados, fish, yoghurt and bananas.
Calcium and zinc also play a role in sleep. Traditionally a warm milky drink is recommended before bed, and that’s because dairy products like milk contain both tryptophan and calcium. Good sources of calcium include dairy foods, soybeans, broccoli, and good sources of zinc include meat, legumes, pinenuts, cashews, almonds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, as well as dark chocolate.
Sleep is a vital indicator of your overall wellbeing and health. Making small adjustments to our diet can help promote good sleep. How fantastic is that?